Jewish Brits are cut­ting edge

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - An­thony Cla­vane

MUL­TI­CUL­TUR­AL­ISM HAS be­come a dirty word since David Cameron’s in­fa­mous speech, five months ago, linked it with terrorism. But last week, as I read and saw the re­ports of Amy Wine­house’s fu­neral, it oc­curred to me that the no­tion was far from dis­cred­ited.

How else to ex­plain the me­dia’s breath­less fas­ci­na­tion with the He­brew prayers, the sitting shiva and the kip­pahs? Many of the obit­u­ar­ies re­ferred to Amy’s shiny Star of David neck­lace, quoted the “lit­tle white Jewish Salt’n’ Pepa” de­scrip­tion of her first group and showed poignant pic­tures of her dressed up at Purim. Amy was not de­fined by her re­li­gion — far from it — but both she and her pub­lic were com­fort­able with the im­age of a work­ing­class, north Lon­don Jewish girl made good.

Eight years ago, an in­flu­en­tial gov­ern­ment re­port, “Who are we Bri­tish?” found that: “We are a mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety… made up of a di­verse range of cul­tures and iden­ti­ties, and one that em­pha­sises the need for a con­tin­u­ous process of mu­tual en­gage­ment and learn­ing about each other with re­spect, un­der­stand­ing and tol­er­ance.” Its au­thor, Sir Bernard Crick, ob­served: “Dual iden­ti­ties have been com­mon, even be­fore large scale im­mi­gra­tion.”

To me, Amy Wine­house’s emer­gence re­flected a new re­spect, and a more open attitude, to­wards our An­glo-Jewish dual iden­tity.

Time Out has just made my pa­per­back Promised Land: A North­ern Love Story its Book of the Week. The mag­a­zine’s re­viewer chose to sin­gle out of its var­i­ous strands: “He el­e­gantly and evoca­tively ex­plores his own Jewish­ness,” he wrote, “through his beloved foot­ball team.” In the book, I ar­gue that the 150-year jour­ney of the Leeds Jews shows that an im­mi­grant com­mu­nity can fully in­te­grate into English so­ci­ety while re­tain­ing its iden­tity.

The prob­lem was that, for most of the last cen­tury, this iden­tity re­mained hid­den. It was felt that if we blended in with the host cul­ture we would turn into good English cit­i­zens. Which we did — but at a price. In the frus­trated cry of Ronit, the nar­ra­tor of Naomi Al­der­man’s su­perb novel, Dis­obe­di­ence, “Bri­tish Jews can­not speak, can­not be seen, value ab­so­lute in­vis­i­bil­ity above all other virtues.”

The Lon­don Jewish Mu­seum’s En­ter­tain­ing The Nation ex­hi­bi­tion tells the story of the three phases of Jewish in­te­gra­tion. The first gen­er­a­tion of en­ter­tain­ers — viewed as, at best, ex­otic out­siders and, at worst, dan­ger­ous aliens — were cast as Shy­locks, Sven­galis and Fa­gins. The sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, in their des­per­a­tion to es­cape the ghetto, be­came more English than the English. The nation’s favourite stiff-up­per-lip aris­to­crat, Les­lie Howard, was born Les­lie Steiner.

Some of the most “English” films of the post-war pe­riod, from the Eal­ing come­dies to the Carry On and James Bond fran­chises, were pro­duced by Jews. Some of their big­gest stars, like Zvi Mosheh Skikne and Solomon Joel Co­hen (aka Lau­rence Harvey and Sid James) were Jews. And yet they masked their iden­tity be­hind English names and down­played, at times de­nied, their ori­gins. “If the Jews make any trou­ble for the English in Pales­tine,” warned Hun­gar­ian-Jewish émi­gré Alexan­der Korda, “we will an­ni­hi­late them”.

We now ap­peared to have en­tered the third phase of in­te­gra­tion. Like Wine­house, the likes of Sacha Baron Co­hen, Si­mon Am­stell, Howard Ja­cob­son and Lord Sugar not only take a pride in their eth­nic in­her­i­tance, they are con­sid­ered to be edgy Jews — Jews with attitude. Theirs is a more con­fi­dent in­te­gra­tion, one based on ac­cept­ing dif­fer­ence.

With Ja­cob­son at last bag­ging The Man Booker, Sugar be­com­ing a na­tional trea­sure, Mr Speaker Bercow get­ting up the Prime Min­is­ter’s nose, FA chair­man David Bern­stein get­ting up the Fifa pres­i­dent’s nose, Lord Jus­tice Leve­son pre­sid­ing over the hack­ing in­quiry, the suc­cess of TV shows like Strictly Kosher, Grandma’s House, Fri­day Night Din­ner… well, one can only con­clude that the death of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism has been much ex­ag­ger­ated.

It might even be — whis­per it softly — cool to be Jewish. Even high-pro­file politi­cians draw inspiration from their Yid­dish roots. Bercow, like Amy the child of a Jewish taxi driver, en­joys needling the Prime Min­is­ter with his chutz­pah. Mau­rice Glas­man, the favoured guru of Ed Miliband — the son of a Jewish refugee — quoted Jeremiah xxix in an­swer to a ques­tion about his think tank’s pol­icy on safe neigh­bour­hoods.

Op­pos­ing Cameron’s at­tack on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, Glas­man says that the Labour Party should take as its in­flu­ences the tra­di­tions of the synagogue and the mosque. “A great deal of good,” he says, “can come from the in­tense plu­ral­i­sa­tion in this coun­try now.”

One of those good things is that Jewish iden­tity is no longer hid­den. So –— with apolo­gies to The Com­mit­ments — “say it once and say it loud: I’m Jewish and I’m proud.” An­thony Cla­vane’s ‘Promised Land: A North­ern Love Story’ is now out in pa­per­back

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.